The Extra Pass: Kevin Durant’s shot at history

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at Kevin Durant’s chance to make NBA history.

For the last three seasons, Kevin Durant has led the NBA in scoring. That’s no easy task, but doing it again this year is going to be quite the challenge.

Kobe Bryant is the current points per game leader, and if the Lakers do end up out of the playoff hunt, we know exactly what he’ll be gunning for. Out in New York, Carmelo Anthony is having his best year ever and is scoring from all over the court. James Harden lurks as a darkhorse who will get all the shots he can handle, and LeBron James is always a threat to win it — if he feels like it. Point is, the competition for the scoring title this year will be stiff.

Of course, there’s history on the side of the challengers as well. Five players in NBA history have led the league in scoring three straight seasons, but only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain have done it four years in a row.

But if Durant can beat out the competition and secure the scoring title, he’ll have a chance to do something no one in NBA history has ever done — not Jordan, not Wilt — no one.

The 180 Shooter

A “180 shooter” is a player whose field goal percentage (at least 50%), 3-point percentage (at least 40%) and free throw percentage (at least 90%) add up to 180 or greater. It’s a term coined by the late, great Rick Majerus, who was full of little nuggets of basketball wisdom.

Since the 3-point line was introduced in the 1979-80 season, the NBA has had seven different players join the 180 club. It’s almost basketball’s equivalent to baseball’s Triple Crown, albeit more common.

Only the best of the best of the best shooters gain this distinction. Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Price, Steve Nash, Steve Kerr and Jose Calderon have all had 50-40-90 years that placed them in the 180 club.

Durant’s résumé

Durant is obviously a great shooter, but he hasn’t so much as sniffed the 180 club in his career. Despite that beautiful jumper, he has never shot over 50 percent from the field, and he’s only eclipsed 40 percent 3-point shooting and 90 percent free throw shooting once, and in different seasons at that. If you were to guess which players were most likely to join the club going into this year, Stephen Curry, Steve Nash or Jose Calderon would have been much better choices given their past performances.

With all that said, it’s pretty easy to forget that Durant is only 24-years-old. He’s still perfecting his shot and finding ways to free himself up for better looks, which is terrifying for the rest of the league, but great for his numbers.

Where Durant stands today

Going into Wednesday night’s games, Durant is shooting 52 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line, and 90 percent from the foul line. If the season ended today, Durant would become the eighth player in NBA history to post percentages of 50-40-90.

What does that mean in the grand scheme of things? Excluding Calderon, the last two members to join the club (Nowitzki and Nash) have won the league MVP. Obviously there are other factors at play, but it doesn’t hurt to solidify yourself as the league’s best shooter when it’s time to tally the votes.

But here’s where Durant can really separate himself from his current peers and past shooting legends. If Durant can manage to win the scoring title and keep these percentages intact, he’ll be the only 180 shooter in NBA history to lead the league in scoring.

All by himself

There are a few reasons why Durant would be the only player to have ever done this. The first is obvious enough: bigger point totals almost always come at the cost of efficiency.

The second reason why this hasn’t happened? Michael Jeffrey Jordan. In the 1987-88 season, Larry Bird averaged a whopping 29.9 points per game, but that was only good for third on the scoring list. Dominique Wilkins, maybe the most underrated player ever, averaged 30.7 points a game that year for the Hawks. But MJ? He averaged a ridiculous 35 points per game. Think about how crazy that is. We make a big deal when a player drops 40, but Jordan nearly averaged that.

That’s part of what makes Durant’s potential accomplishment so impressive. There aren’t many individual feats MJ left unclaimed, but this is one of them. And in what is already shaping up as one of the league’s hottest MVP races of recent memory, with Durant, James, Chris Paul, Anthony, and Tim Duncan all in contention, doing something no one has ever done before may end up tipping the scales in Durant’s favor.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.